Environmental Law

The U.S. Rejoins Paris Climate Agreement

Using his executive order power, the President wrote our membership of the historic environmental treaty back into law.

On January 20th, President Joe Biden’s first day in office, the United States officially rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement. Using his executive order power, the President wrote our membership of the historic environmental treaty back into law. 

What Is the Paris Climate Agreement?

The Paris Climate Agreement is an unparalleled, multilateral agreement designed for global action on climate change. President Barack Obama and the United States foreign policy apparatus were instrumental in drafting and signing the Agreement. It came into full force on November 4th, 2016. 

The purpose of the Paris Climate Agreement is simple: to reduce the impact of global climate change on communities worldwide and prevent catastrophic global warming from destroying the globalized system that we’ve come to know. Its goal is to limit global warming to a 1.5 degrees Celsius increase, but at the bare minimum, prevent a 2 degrees Celsius rise.  

Under the Agreement, member countries must enact a new emissions reduction plan every five years. Each plan must significantly reduce the country’s carbon emissions to reach the global warming reduction goal. 

However, the Paris Climate Agreement is non-binding, meaning there are essentially no penalties for violating the terms of the multilateral arrangement. When it was first conceptualized, various organizations criticized the Agreement because there is no way to legally enforce emissions reduction plans. 

The pact, although symbolic, is still an important stepping stone in global climate action. Most countries enacted plans for carbon emissions reduction shortly after they signed onto the Accords. Many, like the Green Deal in the European Union, have had a positive impact on carbon output. 

Why Did the U.S. Leave the Paris Climate Agreement?

As per his campaign promises, former President Donald Trump rescinded U.S. membership in the Accords. He first mentioned his intention to leave in 2017 and then formally filed an intent to withdraw the U.S. from the Agreement in 2019. Then, on November 4th, 2020, the U.S. officially withdrew. These actions fostered feelings of uncertainty and illegitimacy towards the Agreement among many member countries and other organizations within the United States. 

President Trump’s reasoning for the withdrawal was fairly clear. He, and others, believe that global climate change is not real and that the Paris Climate Agreement was simply a way for global powers to reign in U.S. superiority and manufacturing capability. The Agreement is symbolic of a changing global political landscape, which Trump and his party campaigned on dismantling and “returning” to the old way of things. 

Once President Joe Biden took office on January 20th, 2020, one of his first actions was to sign the U.S. back into the Paris Climate Agreement. Once again, the Agreement has teeth, and the U.S. serves a concrete role in preventing global climate catastrophe. 

What Does It Mean That the U.S. Has Rejoined the Agreement?

While the Paris Agreement is mostly symbolic, President Joe Biden has promised swift and intense action on global climate change. Although that promise has yet to come to fruition, what we can expect is a dramatic increase in infrastructure spending and climate-positive job growth, along with stringent emissions and energy procurement regulations on various industries. 

With new and stricter regulations on the horizon, leaders expect private companies to pivot to carbon-reduction practices soon. However, this might not have the biggest impact on the average person’s daily life. There will be many new green energy jobs, but the day-to-day of the individual is unlikely to change dramatically in the near future. 


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